By Jeremy Balan
Convent of the Sacred Heart High School’s girls volleyball team didn’t have an answer for the powerful attacks from standout International freshman outside hitter Michelle Gajdka in the North Coast Section Division V playoffs on Wednesday, but didn’t need one.
The fifth-seeded Cubs found their path to victory when Gajdka was stuck in the back row, most crucially in the final game of their 25-22, 25-20, 25-27, 25-12 win on Wednesday at Convent.
“That was the whole game plan – to capitalize when she was in the back row,” said first-year Convent head coach Laura O’Reilly. “Even when she’s in the back row, she’s a vital player for that team. It’s just a lot easier to get points when she’s back there.”
Gajdka finished with a match-high 24 kills, outscoring the rest of her teammates combined, but was stranded in the back row during a 10-3 Convent run in the fourth game that gave the Cubs (17-7) a commanding 20-8 lead.
“It’s tough to watch her sit back there, but she is our best defender too, so we are a better team defensively when she’s back there,” said first-year International head coach Alana Walker. “We’ve leaned on her the entire season, so there is no reason to change it up now. We ride the highs and lows of the season, and this one didn’t work out for us, but she’s where our bread is buttered, so we have to go to what works.”
The lopsided fourth game came after a missed opportunity for the Cubs in the third, which brought on an ominous feeling for O’Reilly. Last week, when the two teams met in the Bay Counties League West playoffs, it was International that won the first two games, before the Cubs rallied to win the final three.
Convent fought back from three game points in the third frame to tie the game at 24-24, and even had its own game point at 25-24, but the 12th-seeded Jaguars scored the final three points to stay alive in the match.
“I told them to remember what we did last week,” O’Reilly said. “They could have taken the momentum and easily won the match. I think we snapped out of it and realized that could have been the end to our season.”
While the International (15-19) attack ran almost entirely through Gajdka, the Convent attack was balanced. Five Convent hitters tallied six kills or more and three scored more than 10, led by 16 from outside hitter Bianka Quintanilla-Whye. The senior was a consistent threat throughout, but scored seven kills in the second game.
“We changed the sets on her and did things a little differently, and obviously it worked, because she had a heck of a hitting game,” O’Reilly said. “She was unstoppable.”
Convent sophomore middle blocker Alex Wood had 12 kills and outside hitter Rachel Booth added 11.
The Cubs advance to face another BCL West opponent, fourth-seeded Marin Academy, in the second round on Saturday.
“I saw the bracket and said, ‘Oh, come on,'” O’Reilly said. “Especially the battles we’ve had with [International and Marin Academy] this year, they are the last teams we wanted to play.”